Friday, December 25, 2009

Daring Bakers' Gingerbread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone! I was so excited when i found out that this months' challenge was to make gingerbread houses from scratch-- this meant that JLo and I still get to participate in some festive activities even though there's no pseudo-Christmas dinner for us this year (too busy with tests and preparing for vacations!). The good thing is, to accommodate for the holiday season, Daring Bakers' is letting us post our entries anytime between December 23rd - 27th instead of after Christmas. So here I am, typing out a scheduled post a week beforehand just for the sake of reminding myself that I did, in a way, do something on Christmas Eve this year (they don't celebrate Christmas in Egypt, unfortunately... and that's where i am right now!). So back to the gingerbread, when i first found out about the challenge, I knew immediately that JLo was going to be in charge of the decorating-- he is, after all, the one with the dextrous dentist hands. However, the decorating process just looked so fun that we both ended up fighting for the piping bag. While one person piped, the other would make bossy comments and suggestions that would aggravate the piper even more. And with so many ideas flying around, we just ended up piling everything we had on there and call it a house, LOL. The whole process was pretty fun and we had quite a good laugh out of our finished product. I showed JLo some of the super professional-looking gingerbread houses other Daring Bakers' have posted on the forum and he went, "... are you sure you still want to post ours up?... Please dont." Hahaha, it's okay, I give ourselves a big E for effort! So i guess the Christmas lesson learned this year was: Too many cooks spoil the soup! Next time each of us are getting our own houses to decorate :P

Y's Recipe: Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
  • 1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]
  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended [picture 1].
  2. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves [picture 2].
  3. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour [picture 3, 4].
  4. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight [picture 5, 6]. (TIP: doughs are prone to a little shrinkage. Make sure you don't overmix the dough initially as you'll overdevelop the gluten and make your dough tough and shrinky).
  5. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard (got my pattern from .
  6. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place [picture 7].
  7. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
  8. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm.
  9. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet [picture 8].
Royal Icing:
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  1. Put the powdered sugar in a mixing bowl and beat in half of the egg white [picture 1]. Slowly add the remaining egg white while mixing, making sure the icing doesn't get too wet.
  2. If 1 egg white is not enough, add water a little bit at a time until your icing reaches a glue-like consistency [picture 2].
  3. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Kindergarteners could've done a better job than this-- FAIL!
But it's so ugly to the point that... it's actually kinda cute XD
Gingerbread House

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Daring Cooks' Salmon en Croute

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

I really need to tattoo the Daring Cooks' posting date on my arm or something... why do i keep thinking it's the 17th?? I guess i get too excited about the reveal date that i mix it up with the posting :( This is like the 3rd time thats happened, ughhh... i frustrate myself too much. But anyways, this month's challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking and she picked Salmon en Croute for the December challenge. I've been meaning to make Salmon en Croute for a while now so thank you Simone for reading my mind! I was absolutely in love with everything about it that i actually made this a week after the reveal date (that's a huge improvement considering what a procrastinator I am). The recipe was very simple and everything went well during the process. My only complaint was that there weren't any fresh veggies at the grocery store the day i went shopping so i had to use frozen spinach instead. The cream cheese mixture turned out a little dry (squeezed too much out of the spinach) but that was okay since JLo and I don't pay too much attention to little details. I also made my own shortcrust pastry and used butterfly cookie cutters for decorations. Had to patch up some of the torn parts on my crust though, hope it isn't too visible on the pics XD. I would totally make this for Christmas dinner but since we'll be off on vacations, maybe for new years? We shall see!

Shortcrust Pastry
  • 450 grams (3.2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 200 grams butter, very cold and cubed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons cold water
  1. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the salt and 2 -3 tablespoons of water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.
  3. If you have a food processor: put the flour, butter and salt in the food processor and pulse until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, gradually add 2 - 3 tablespoons of water through the funnel until the dough comes together [picture 1]. Gather the coarse crumbs together and push to form a ball [picture 2]. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling [picture 3].
Salmon en Croute
  • 150 grams cream cheese or mascarpone
  • 120 grams watercress, rocket (argula) and spinach
    [i used frozen leaf spinach]
  • 500 grams shortcrust pastry [recipe above]
  • 500 grams salmon fillet, skinless
    [Check out Gordon Ramsay's video on How to Skin and Bone a Salmon]
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium egg, for eggwash
    1. Heat the oven to 200°C/390 F.
    2. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well [picture 1. 2].
    3. Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) [picture 3]and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle [picture 4]. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under.
    4. Spoon half of the watercress/spinach mixture onto the salmon [picture 4].
    5. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly [picture 5]. Trim off any excess as you need to.
    6. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like [picture 6]. Brush with the egg glaze.
    7. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test wether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked.
    8. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

    Salmon en Croute

    Sunday, December 06, 2009

    German Potato Salad with Bacon-Vinegar Dressing and Dill

    Like most people, I'm also the type of person who needs something to snack on during stressful times. When I have big exams coming up, I usually make myself something that'll last me for at least 2 all-nighters: it could be a batch of brownies, a tray of muffins, a pot of chili, or in this case, a bowl of potato salad. I have one potato salad recipe that I've been using since high school so it was about time I tried something new. Most of the recipes i browsed through were pretty similar; they were mostly mayo-based with only slight changes with the veggies thrown inside. So this time I went another direction and made a warm German potato salad. Vinegar is used instead of mayonnaise, making it an excellent choice for calorie-conscious carb-lovers like me (okay, the bacon probably counterbalances the omitted mayo but you can always choose a thinner cut of meat). One thing you gotta keep in mind though is that the 1/2 a cup of vinegar required may be too poignant for normal people (it was fine for me since i like strong flavors). You can either decrease the amount of vinegar according to taste or neutralize the sour taste with some sugar-- that's a little cooking tip that i got from my mom ;) Other than that, you shouldn't have any problems with this recipe. Hope you enjoy it as much as i did!

    German Potato Salad with Bacon-Vinegar Dressing and Dill
    • 1 kilogram (2 1/4 lbs) potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
    • 6 bacon slices, chopped (or 100 grams bacon bits)
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
    • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar [or less, according to taste]
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 2 teaspoons coarse-grained mustard
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

      1. Boil potatoes until tip of knife easily pierces center of slices [picture 1]. Transfer to large bowl. Cover with foil.
      2. Sauté bacon in large skillet over medium heat until brown, about 3 minutes [picture 2]. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels. Discard all but 2 1/2 tablespoons drippings.
      3. Heat drippings in skillet over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes [picture 3]. Whisk in next 6 ingredients. Simmer until mixture is reduced to 2/3 cup, about 4 minutes [picture 4]. Remove from heat.
      4. Add potatoes to the skillet and toss to coat with dressing [picture 5]. Let stand for 3 minutes.
      5. Sprinkle with chopped bacon and fresh dill; toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper [picture 6, 7, 8].
      6. Transfer the potato salad to a serving platter. Serve warm.

      German Potato Salad

      with Bacon-Vinegar Dressing and Dill